Should You Wear a Weightbelt for Weight Lifting?

Posted on 15. May, 2011 by in Exercises, Injuries / Rehab, Physiology, Strength & Power, Workouts

Should You Wear a Weightbelt for Weight Lifting?

For 95% of the population the answer to this question is, “No.”

The reason for this is that we already have a “God-given” weight belt—our abdominals.

The six muscles that comprise our abdominals cris-cross the lower abdomen in a pattern ideally designed for support of the lower back and abdomen.

Those six muscles can be broken into two sub-units of muscles with each unit taking a slightly different primary function.

The rectus abdominus and external obliques (left and right) comprise the outer unit of abdominal muscles.  The primary role of these muscles is protection and gross movement.

Rectus abdominus is the most commonly known ab muscle.  Also known as the “six pack” it runs from the bottom of the rib cage to the top of the pubic bone.

The external obliques are on your sides.  They start on the lower eight ribs and run diagonally “inward” attaching along the sides of the rectus abdominus and the tops of your hips.

The outer unit muscles are the ones that protect your internal organs from a punch.  Interestingly enough, they are also part of the primary movers associated with returning your counter punch.

The other unit is called, as I’m sure you could guess, the inner unit and consists of the internal obliques (left and right) and transverse abdominus.  The inner unit muscles provide stability and resist internal pressure.

The internal obliques run diagonally against the external obliques.  Together with the external obliques they provide the perfect cross brace for lateral stability.  They are also fundamental in all twisting motions.

The transverse abdominus forms a horizontal band around your entire abdomen.  It lies underneath all the other abdominals and wraps from your spine to the front from your lower ribs to your hips and pubic bone.

The transverse abdominus is your inner weight belt.

The inner unit muscles are more readily seen at play in wrestling, where their stabilizing role is seen as they counter the push and pull of your opponent.

Ever heard of a Valsalva Maneuver?  Whether you’ve heard of it or not, you’ve done it.

When you brace your abs for a heavy lift by taking in a big breath and holding it you’re doing a Valsalva.  You also do it when you brace for an anticipated punch to the gut or when you throw up.

Essentially you are using your abs to brace against internal pressure.  The transverse abs are eccentrically resisting the internal pressure of the abdomen.

**Physiology Refresher: There are two times of muscular contraction, concentric and eccentric.  A concentric contraction is like a bicep curl.  The bicep hinges the elbow joint and brings the wrist closer to the shoulder.  The eccentric contraction is like the curl negative.  The bicep resists the pulling of the wrist away from the shoulder.  For simplicity’s sake, remember that a concentric contraction creates movement and an eccentric contraction resists movement.**

The purpose of a weight belt is to provide an external source of resistance to internal pressure.  When weight lifting, the source of that pressure is the weight on your spine, either from your shoulders, as in a back squat, or overhead, as in a military press.

By now, I’m sure your thinking, “Dude, if I have a natural support structure why would I limit it by providing external support?  I mean, if I train it properly I’ll be that much stronger than everyone else who relies on a belt.”

And to this I say, “You make me so proud.”

It is absolutely true that the stronger your ab muscles are, and that means all of them not just the rectus abdominus, the stronger your stabilization will be, the healthier your spine and internal organs will be and the better off you will be than all the guys who only train with a weight belt.

However, there are times when you may train with loads that exceed your ability to safely brace and resist the internal pressures created by those loads.  It is during those times, those maximal lifts, that a weight belt just might be prudent.

Sometimes we really want to push our limits and it’s during those times that supportive gear can not only be helpful but may well be essential.  These are the times and the individuals I was referring to in the remaining 5%.

The down side of using a belt all the time is that when we properly use a belt we push our abs into the belt.  As such we are letting the belt handle the internal pressure and are actually training the transverse abdominus not to resist the pressure.

Later when we find ourselves in need of support and we’re not wearing a belt the transverse is not up for the job and we end up getting injured.

So, to sum things up, a smart athlete uses the weight belt sparingly.  He makes sure that his abs are well trained and up to 95% of his lifting requirements.

He saves the belt and brings it out for his max lifts only.

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